We grow ’em big out here

As one of the (blessedly) least developed regions in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma County remains, in some places, more than half-wild, with redwood-forested mountains, grassy valleys and open meadows. We’ve certainly seen plenty of local fauna around: fish in the river, beautiful birds soaring above, mischievous raccoons and coyotes prowling the neighborhood and so many lovely deer roaming the hillsides.

But one day, along the roadside, we spotted a truly unusual specimen that we know to be a one-of-a-kind local native: a giant bee that’s about the size of a small deer. This fun, friendly creature, perched along the highway in downtown Sebastopol greets passersby and visitors alike to the Ceres Project.

(The Ceres Project is a nonprofit providing healthy meals to people in need in an innovative way—an organization which offers another reason to love this area.)

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This huge bee must have bulked up on nectar from all those apple blossoms around in the spring. Or maybe it really likes wine?

Artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent created this huge, colorful bee from scrap metal and recycled items like car parts.

Their upcycled “junk art” pops up in many spots around the area, offering glimpses of a whimsical world populated by angular, comically proportioned humans, fantastic creatures like mermaids, and all manner of animals.

One of the most obvious Amiot-Laurent landmarks—and another rare, native creature—is a teardrop camper transformed into a massive yellow duck that sits along the Gravenstein Highway. The oversized avian marks the spot of the artists’ sculpture garden, which you can visit. The quirky character of these artists’ joyful works, which pop up at local restaurants and in residential front gardens alike, strikes us as a perfect example of an only-in-Sonoma-County thing that just makes us love the area even more.

To enjoy more local art, check out this article, which includes links to a map of other Amiot-Laurent works around the area, as well as a link to a sculpture trail featuring outdoor works of art created by other local artists.

Part of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge—Rare

Future apples

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There will be fruit: blossoms on our little old apple tree in the forest.

Sonoma County has long been known for its agriculture, but at the turn of the previous century, the area wasn’t known for wine, but for apples. We don’t have a road in these parts called the Gravenstein Highway for nothing, after all.

Vineyards are everywhere now, but plenty of sweet remnants of the apple’s heyday in the area remain: certainly Sonoma County is still home to apple orchards, including places where you can pick your own fruit in the fall, and there are also apple trees in many a yard, probably a combination of volunteer trees and those that were planted by homeowners.

The old apple tree in our yard must be of hardy stock—with our location in the redwood forest, the tree doesn’t get the hours of full sun that most fruit trees need to really produce. There aren’t many orchards in the forest.

Nevertheless, our tree keeps soldiering on—it gave us a little more than two dozen apples last fall. And it looks like we’ll have apples again come September, because the tree is blooming right now. Of course, we always look forward to the apples, (even though they’re small and a little sour, they’re homegrown), but right now we’re just enjoying the beautiful blossoms and watching the bare branches of winter come alive again with snowy flowers and bright green leaves.

 

Part of WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge—The Future

Coming in for a landing

 

Depending on the friends or family who might be with us, how we spend our visits to the Russian River and North Bay can vary, from parent-friendly trips to the casino to kid-friendly strolls in the woods; dog-friendly visits to the beach to wine drinker-friendly stops by local vineyards.

Wine-loving friends, who spend a lot of time in the area themselves, brought us to Lynmar Estate for wine tasting. It’s a sustainable winery located about half an hour’s drive from the house.

The wine we tried was wonderful, but equally impressive was the winery’s beautiful garden, planted with both edible crops and colorful flowers. The garden, like the winery, uses sustainable practices. Certainly this butterfly, headed for a Mexican sunflower, seemed to enjoy the garden—which made us enjoy the garden that much more.

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A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly spots the perfect place to land: a Mexican sunflower in the garden at Lynmar Estate.

Tunnel of flowers

One of our favorite breakfast spots/bakeries is a place we stumbled upon in a bid to avoid traffic on the main highway, in what turned out to be one of our best-ever detours. Wild Flour Bread is a bakery on the Bohemian Highway in the tiny town of Freestone.

We love their sturdy, rustic breads and big scones, both sweet and savory kinds, loaded with fruit or herbs. And some of these ingredients are grown in a huge, beautiful garden right next to the bakery.

It’s a working kitchen garden—with its own small orchard, even—but in good weather, it’s also a place to enjoy scones and coffee at picnic tables dotted throughout the garden and orchard. In the middle of the garden stands a big tunnel-like arbor. The first summer we visited, the arbor supported vines with gourds dangling down into the tunnel. Now, the arbor is covered by grapevines, but mingled in with these new vines last summer was a bright wall of nasturtiums.

There are many paths through the garden, but this leafy tunnel is always our favorite path. The garden changes so much season to season, year to year, that you never know what new flower or crop awaits on the far side.

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A tunnel of nasturtiums and grapevines marks the center of the garden at Wild Flour Bread.

When the sun comes out

Most mornings here do start out in a fog (and isn’t that sometimes true of mornings in general?), but when the mist burns off, the sun comes flooding through the trees.

Because there are redwood trees all around, the yard has a lot of shady spots—perfect for ferns, which don’t tend to thrive in direct sunlight. Because this fern grows under the stairs in the front yard, it especially doesn’t see much sun at all, but it really seemed to glow when the sunlight did catch its fronds.

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The fern under the front yard stairs soaks up some rays.

 

 

Misty mornings

So many of the mornings in Monte Rio start off as misty, maybe because we’re not that far from the ocean. Overnight, a light fog creeps in over the hills and in the morning lingers in the trees, leaving tiny dew drops on every leaf, frond and petal in the garden.

Usually, the fog of the morning gives way by noon to a bright, beautiful sunny day. We always welcome the sunshine, but there’s something peaceful—almost magical—about the morning mist.

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Morning mist sparkles on the leaves of a plant in the garden.